"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Does Screen Time Really Prevent Children from Improving Social Skills?

The recommendation is clear from the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP): "The AAP recommends that parents establish "screen-free" zones at home by making sure there are no televisions, computers or video games in children's bedrooms, and by turning off the TV during dinner. Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play." It is obvious that when adolescents spend a lot of their time in front of a screen (big or handheld), very little time would be devoted to other activities. Whether taking media away from teens helps in honing social skills is a different question. This question is quite difficult to address in research since taking media away obviously means replacing it with something else. "That something else" could easily be a factor that helps teenagers socialize face to face. Take, for instance, the following study:

Blogger Tricks

Monday, September 1, 2014

Teachers Killed by Policeman Collecting Debts

This is a very sad news story from Pangasinan, Philippines. A police officer shot dead several individuals inside a classroom inside the Lingayen National High School. The officer was collecting debts from teachers when an altercation began and the officer went amuck.

Above copied from the Inquirer
The following is a statement from the Teachers' Dignity Coalition:

September 2, 2014


The shocking incident in Pangasinan National High School yesterday should serve as an eye opener for all of us. Two major issues of public education sector were put in highlight- violence and poverty. The shooting that resulted to the death of three people, two of them teachers and wounding of several others is the latest recorded incident of violence in schools involving teachers as victims. However, the reason behind this shooting is more appalling. According to the reports and the initial investigation, the gunman, who is a member of Pangasinan police force is collecting loans from his clients- the teachers when an altercation happen that led to the shooting spree. It is almost incomprehensible that some people kill to collect loans while others die because of debt. 

With this incident, we would like to validate the public perception that teachers- or at least many of them are living in what we describe as “hand to hand” existence- worse than “hand to mouth” description. That is the literal handing of money to lenders right after they receive their salaries.

Teachers are the favorite clients of lending institutions and loan sharks because they are good payers. Teachers frequent the lending queues to make ends meet. And up to the point beyond the minimum take-home pay policy, teachers would find ways to borrow money- pawning their ATM cards of even certifying payments from anticipated bonuses to lenders. Yes, teachers are living in a borrowed income. 

Thus, we call on the government to prevent the incidents of this kind in the future by providing just salaries and adequate remuneration and benefits- monetary or otherwise. Particularly, we call on President Aquino to certify Senate Bill 2146 and Senate Bill 2365 filed by young senators Sonny Angara and Bam Aquino, respectively. SB 2146 seeks to reform the tax system and collect more taxes from the rich and less from the poor while SB 2365 pushes for a P10, 000.00 additional compensation for public school teachers. These proposed measures, if enacted into law would surely augment the living of our teachers.

This government should sincerely care for the welfare of its teachers and never allow them to be killed for an unpaid loan. #

The following is a statement from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers:

Alliance of Concerned Teachers-Philippines

As we call for justice to our teachers who were gunned down today, we call for justice for the whole education sector.
Shocked at the news that teachers from my Alma Mater & from nearby Pangasinan School of Arts & Trades (PSAT) were shot by a policeman running amok over unpaid debts. At least 3 teachers were dead, 3 others injured and 2 students were rushed to the hospital for panic attacks. The perpetrator, identified as Police Office 2 Domino Alipio was a money lender to teachers in Lingayen and nearby areas.

Our teachers from PNHS are among the active campaigners for the Alliance of Concerned Teachers' call for salary upgrading for public school teachers and government employees through ACT Teachers' PL's House Bill 245. This is not the first time teachers fell prey to loan sharks and "trigger-happy" lenders. These incidents are very telling of the state of our teachers and our education system. It is very surprising to hear that there are teachers who pawn (sangla) their ATM cards or that going to "London" means going to "loan doon", "loan dito". Another teacher shared the story of fellow teachers in their municipality wherein the money lender posted pictures of teachers who cannot pay their debts along electric posts and waiting sheds in the area.

Consider this, the persons molding the minds of our youth- the country's future are paid only P18,549/month (for Teacher I) while a highschool graduate entering the Philippine Military Academy as a cadet is given an allowance of around P21,000/month; while a call center gets almost the same as the Teacher 1. A recent study shows the declining number of college students taking up education, add this to the number of teachers and education graduates leaving for other work or abroad; to the perennial scarcity of educational materials, classrooms and facilities and we got a crisis in our education system.

To make things worse, the government has continuously implemented policies that worsen the conditions of our teachers and education system such as the chaotic K+12 and the performance-based system/RPMS (wherein teachers are expected for a 130% work output). These policies will further enforce the teachers being as what Conrado de Quiro's says "the national animal".

As we call for justice to our teachers who were gunned down today, we call for justice for the whole education sector. Not the "just-tiis" our teachers and the people are going through while the few and our de facto national-collector are amassing wealth from people's money (cut the pork, the perks and the lump sum!). This justice means our money, the people's money should be spent in properly compensating our educators, for providing free/affordable education for the people that is scientific, mass-oriented and nationalist and to social services.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

How Should One Teach English-Language Learners?

Most Filipinos do not speak English in their homes. Thus, it is safe to assume that a great majority of students in Philippine public schools are English language learners. There should be no argument why it is necessary to learn English. Becoming fluent in English has become a requirement since most human disciplines have embraced English as the global language. Much of academic success now hinges on how well a student comprehends in English as textbooks, learning materials, as well as research papers are now almost exclusively written and published in English. Hence, there is no longer any doubt regarding the importance of learning English. Unfortunately, what program works best for English language learners is still very much debatable. Any claim otherwise only means dismissing or choosing selectively research studies that have attempted to answer this question. It should also be pointed out that this area is marked with poorly done research. The experiments are very difficult to perform and the studies are usually inadequately designed and sample sizes are often very small to be meaningful or transferable. Research is continuing however, as this is not only relevant to developing countries, but also to the United States because of its growing immigrant population. Although there is no final word yet as to what works best, there have been a few excellent studies that now offer some sort of direction. These studies may not yet give the final answer, but it sure raises the bar in terms of what studies should be worth at least our attention. One example is from Valentino and Reardon of Stanford University:

Effectiveness of four instructional programs designed to serve English language 
learners: Variation by ethnicity and initial English proficiency


In this paper we provide a descriptive and quasi-experimental analysis of the relationship between four elementary school instructional programs designed to serve English learners (ELs) and EL students’ longitudinal academic outcomes in English language arts and math through middle school. We also consider differential program effectiveness by child ethnicity and initial English proficiency. Although bilingual education has been well studied, little research has examined the effectiveness of programs longitudinally, most has focused on academic outcomes only in literacy, and most research from the U.S. has exclusively focused on Spanish-speaking ELs. In this paper we find considerable differences in program effects between programs (i.e. transitional bilingual, developmental bilingual, dual immersion, and English immersion), between students of different ethnicities (i.e. Chinese and Latino), and across academic subjects. 
One obvious characteristic that this study does not share with others is its longitudinal nature. The English programs here have not been evaluated by just running the program for one year and assessing at the end. Instead, the academic performance of the students have been monitored through eight grade. Furthermore, the sample size of this study is huge:
...The data used in the current study comes from a large urban district that serves a sizable EL population. Our analytic sample follows 13,750 EL students who entered the district in kindergarten sometime between the 2001-2002 and 2009-2010 academic years.... 
The four programs examined in this study are as follows:

Above table copied from Valentino and Reardon (2014)

Friday, August 29, 2014

What We Teach Reflects Who We Are

Back in high school, although there were both male and female students, there were specific subjects in which boys are separated from the girls. There was "Home Economics" in which female students were enrolled and there was "Practical Arts" which male pupils took. This was almost four decades ago when gender roles were still prevalent. This was how most Filipino families were set up while I was growing up, the woman was a full time home keeper while the man was the breadwinner.

Schools are indeed reflections of the society since after all, we do choose what we teach our children. Take for instance the various states in the United States. In places like Massachusetts, there is no debate on whether to include "Intelligent Design" as part of the science curriculum while in some "red states", the discussion still goes on. The curriculum, what we want our children to learn is shaped by what we value. It is drawn according to our image.

The objections raised in this blog regarding DepEd's K+12 center more on the implementation side, asking the question of what works and what does not work in education. Anyone can easily list standards and skills that need to be covered, but in the end, the real question is whether pupils would learn the material or not. This blog has raised the importance of the early years, the great significance of providing as much resources as needed to kindergarten and the elementary years. The blog has often focused on the central role a teacher plays in education. This blog has questioned the way science is being taught. With regard to the curriculum, however, one may actually be going beyond the walls of a classroom.

Some may brag about a 21st century curriculum. Human knowledge has expanded greatly. It is hoped that human wisdom has been refined as well. This is how a curriculum changes with time. The science curriculum is shaped by practicing scientists as they discover and realize what needs to be taught inside schools. The same goes with math, reading and the other subjects. For this reason, debating what is inside a curriculum goes far beyond education. DepEd's K+12 is flawed not because of its curriculum, but because of its implementation. And it is really just the implementation that can be evaluated using research-based evidence. Thus, stating that DepEd's K+12 is faulty in its implementation is equivalent to saying that DepEd's K+12 is wrong. It is the only part that can be evaluated. Whether K+12 prepares the youth for employment is a curriculum question. How one answers this issue depends on one's values. It is outside the science of education.

Seeing the following exam question (posted by Renato Reyes Jr. on Facebook), one should pause for a moment and realize that this is beyond DepEd. This is in fact a reflection of Philippine society:

The question is in Tagalog, so here is the English translation:

Place a "check" mark if the activity is for males and a "cross" if it is for females:

______1. Plowing a field
______2. Cleaning the house
______3. Driving a jeepney (a public means of transportation in the Philippines)
______4. Washing and ironing clothes
______5. Market shopping

With this post, Reyes asks the question, "Dear DepEd K-12 curriculum planners: What in the world were you thinking?" I think a more appropriate comment is that this only reflects how the Philippine society still thinks. This is so much bigger than DepEd. The curriculum is simply a mirror that reflects our own image....

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Teaching Science: What Works?

It is quite easy to be impressed by innovations in education. After all, how something should be taught can be a lucrative business venture. Like any advertisement, learning resources and methodologies can be promoted by appealing to some sort of common sense. Take teaching science as an example. Providing students with kits that they could actually touch, see, hear and smell seems like a guaranteed way of learning science. After all, how could "hands-on learning" fail? It must simply work. Right? Well, education must be treated like medicine. There needs to be evidence.

To illustrate why research-based evidence is important in education, we could explore one example: the Full Option Science System.

Above copied from FOSS Introduction

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Global Innovation Index - 2014

A new report is available from Cornell University, INSEAD (The Business School for the World) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The report ranks 143 economies around the world using 81 indicators that measure human innovation. The productivity and creativity of a nation depends on its citizens. Thus, a major part of this evaluation looks at education. The ranking highlights the dire situation of education in the Philippines especially when compared to its neighbors in south east Asia. With the upcoming integration of these countries into one economic bloc, the data only forebode a grim predicament for the Philippines.

Overall, the Philippines ranks 100th out of 143 economies:

Above figure developed from Global Innovation Index 2014 - Data Analysis
The above table presents only the countries in East Asia and Oceania Region. The Philippines ranks 15th in this region, well below its neighbors, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. The index uses several indicators grouped under the following seven categories: Institutions, Human Capital and Research, Infrastructure, Market Sophistication, Business Sophistication, Knowledge and Technology Outputs, and Creative Outputs. 
Copied from Global Innovation Index 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Additional Years Should Decongest, But DepEd's K+12 Does Not

Adding years to basic education is not necessarily a bad idea except for the fact that it lengthens the time a child must be in primary and secondary school before entering higher education. When the number and scope of subjects covered in basic education are simply too much, it is a must to either eliminate some subjects or add years to schooling. Basic education is obviously congested if a child has to be in school from 7 in the morning till 5 in the afternoon. That is a ten-hour school day. Add two hours of commute, a child can possibly spend 12 hours just for school. This cannot be good since an adolescent needs about 9 hours of sleep to remain healthy. Here is a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The main reason why the American Academy of Pediatrics is focusing on the school start time is because of what happens at puberty:

Decongesting the curriculum can definitely add flexibility allowing for less hours required to be inside a classroom. And certainly, this could be achieved by adding years to high school. It defeats the purpose, however, if the two additional years come with additional subjects. Here are sample class schedules for the additional senior high school years of DepEd's K+12:

Unfortunately, the above is only one example from the myriad of wrong things with DepEd's K+12....

Monday, August 25, 2014

K+12 and College Readiness

Readiness is a state of being fully prepared for something. Oftentimes, readiness is confused with actually doing the thing one is preparing for. The new DepEd K+12 curriculum is supposed to prepare high school students for higher education through one of the four strands in its academic track: Accountancy, Business and Management (ABM), Humanities and Social Sciences Strand (HUMSS), Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and General Academic. Looking at these strands demonstrates that not only should students be choosing whether to prepare oneself for work or college, but also commit to a particular area or discipline. The first question that comes to mind is whether public schools in the Philippines have the teachers qualified to teach these subjects. Looking at the strands in greater detail sparks even greater apprehension. For instance, Fr. Tabora, S.J. has this comment on his blog:
"In fact, in the presentations given by Dr. Tina Padolina on the Science, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) strand and by Dr. Maria Luz Vilches on Humanities in Senior High School, many of the subjects like Qualitative Research and Quantitative Research “sounded very HEI” – like belonging more to college or even graduate school education rather than to basic education. I squirmed to find out that future nurses shall be categorized under STEM and so be required to take even modified calculus. Is this really necessary?"
DepEd's K+12 overall misses the point of what basic education really entails and what preparation really means. Even in the United States, where precollege education takes more than 13 years especially with preschool becoming widespread, there are still students that come out of high school unprepared for higher education. A study by Grubb and coworkers estimates that nationally, colleges assess about 60% of new college freshmen as needing remedial courses (Grubb, W. N., Boner, E., Frankel, K., Parker, L., Patterson, D., Gabriner, R., Hope, L., Schiorring, E., Smith, B., Taylor, R., Walton, I., and Wilson, S. (2011). Understanding the “crisis” in basic skills: Framing the issues in community colleges. Working paper. Policy Analysis for California Education) The reason is simple, these students are not able to master the basics. The early years are very important. Remediation is very difficult and it usually fails. Students cannot simply move forward when they are left behind. Remediation, for example, in mathematics is one challenging area and a recent study from New York shows that students are more likely to pass college-level, for-credit statistics than remedial algebra. Here is a figure from InsideHigherEd that summarizes the current status of remediation:

Above copied from InsideHigherEd

This is the data from the United States. It is definitely something to think about....

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Putting Money into Education

Increasing the budget for public schools would improve the quality of basic education. Is this statement correct and true? The answer is "yes" only if the funds are used to provide the necessary resources for learning. For instance, there is no point in building classrooms in places where these are not needed. Classrooms must be built where schools are badly congested that multiple shifts are already employed. Multiple shifts place a severe restraint on any school. Morning and afternoon shifts do not provide enough flexibility and space for extended instructional hours as well as breaks. Anothe example, textbooks must be provided since learning does not only occur inside the classroom. In fact, a lot of times, learning occurs outside the classroom during peer discussions. Most importantly, teachers must be given adequate pay so that they can concentrate and focus on their work. If the basic needs of a learning environment are not met then the quality of schooling is severely compromised.

Of course, there is data that show that greater spending may lead to higher quality in education. WalletHub recently ranked public school systems in the United States using the following criteria:

As back-to-school season arrives, WalletHub compared the school systems among the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. We used 12 key metrics, including student-teacher ratios, dropout rates, test scores and bullying incident rates to assess the quality of education in each state. By highlighting the best school systems, families relocating in the near future can use the available information to compare schools for their children.

The corresponding weights we used are shown below. The two categories under which the metrics are listed were used for organizational purposes only and did not factor in to our overall rankings. 

School System Rank 
  • Presence of Public Schools from one State in Top 700 Best US Schools: 1
  • Remote Learning Opportunities from Online Public Schools: 1
  • Dropout Rates: 1
  • % of Children Who Repeated One or More Grades: 1
  • Bookworms Rank: 0.5
  • Pupil/Teacher Ratio: 1
  • Math Test Scores: 1
  • Reading Test Scores: 1
Education Output & Safety 
  • Safest Schools (Percentage of Public School Students in Grades 9–12 who Reported being Threatened or Injured with a Weapon on School Property): 1
  • Bullying Incidents Rate: 1
  • Percentage of People (25+) with Bachelor’s Degree or Higher: 0.5
  • Champlain University High School Financial Literacy Grade: 1

Sources: Data used to create these rankings is courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Center for Educational Statistics, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Education Association, the Kids Count - Anney E. Casey Foundation, the Center for Financial Literacy - Champlain College, Stopbullying.gov, U.S. News & World Report and K12.com.
Following the above methodology, the ranking is as follows:

Overall Rank
School System Quality Rank
Education Output & Safety Rank
1New Jersey12
4New Hampshire415
20New York277
24South Dakota2518
26North Dakota1847
31Rhode Island3129
37North Carolina3817
42South Carolina4428
45West Virginia4526
46New Mexico4610
51District of Columbia50

Combining the above with information on how much a state spends on public school education WalletHub produces the following graph:

Above figure copied from WalletHub
The states represented by green circles in the above figure spend more and have better school systems while those shown in red spend less and have under performing schools. Of course, not everything is green or blue, some are grey. One group of grey states spends a lot, but do not have a strong school system. From the above, these are Arkansas, Rhode Island, Wyoming, Delaware, Michigan, Hawaii, District of Columbia, West Virginia, and New Mexico. Perhaps these states are facing problems in education that are beyond merely providing resources. And there are states that in spite of relatively low spending on education still manage to produce very good school systems: Virginia, Ohio, Washington, Missouri, Maine, Nebraska, Texas, and Utah. These states may well be the smart spenders. All in all, there are 17 states (out of 51 (since this list includes DC)) that are neither red nor green, but 34 states do follow the correlation between spending and quality in basic education.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Filipino Does Not Unite But Only Divide Us

Spending my first year at the Ateneo was somewhat horrible when it came to language. I felt forced to read, reflect and write in a foreign language, English. My high school days were part of an experiment of the Marcos regime during which most subjects except English were taught in a bilingual manner. As a result, I did not have that much opportunity to think, converse and write in English. I felt a fresh breath of air during my last two years in college during which had the option of learning philosophy using my mother tongue. Yet, at that time, I did acknowledge that in order to master chemistry, I must become proficient in English. The reason was very simple. All the textbooks in chemistry were in English. Slowly, I started thinking in English while learning chemistry.

At Georgetown or any other university that has a graduate program and accepts foreign students, proficiency in English is required. Graduate students are required to serve as teaching assistants, thus, they must be able to speak English so that undergraduate students would be able to understand. Based on experience, both undergraduate students and professors are quite accommodating when it comes to accents. Grammar rules are likewise relaxed as long as the chemistry is correct. It is truly amazing how much respect and understanding is extended when it comes to language. Language is indeed a part of ourselves. It is the medium through which we express ourselves. It is the bridge crossed by our own emotions and thoughts. Without language, it would be difficult to share our ideas and feelings with others. Language is the blood of our own being.

In the Philippines, the debate on language continues and it is not pretty. David Michael San Juan provides not just one but twelve reasons why it is necessary to save the Philippines' national language on Rappler:

Of course, there are people who do not share the same view and to these opponents, this is what David Michael San Juan has to say:

Unfortunately, it does not really matter how many reasons are provided for imposing the national language on everyone because there is no reason that could erase the following fact. There are so many languages spoken in the Philippines:

Above copied from "Many Voices, One Nation: The Philippine Languages and Dialects in Figures"
Although Tagalog, on which the national language is based, garners the highest percentage of households, one cannot deny that the other languages have a significant share of native speakers. Percentage is not really that important, but right to one's mother tongue is, so it really does not matter whether a language is spoken by the majority or not. In terms of percentages, there is really no native language in the Philippines that is spoken by more than half of the households:

Above copied from "Many Voices, One Nation: The Philippine Languages and Dialects in Figures"
Tagalog does have the highest number, but it falls short of fifty percent. And in terms of linguistic rights, even the smallest dot in the above figure has a say. One could promote a national language. One could make up a language and claim that it is a mixture of all the above languages. But no one should impose such language. It is bad enough that all students in the Philippines are forced to learn this made up national language through K+12. It is an attack on one's identity and culture to impose the same in higher education. The use of English as a medium of instruction in higher education should not be seen as an imposition of a colonial foreign language. This choice is not based on any ideological ground. It is purely academic and only practical. On the other hand, imposing a made up national language is based solely on a false sense of nationalism. It is based on a fantasy of having one language uniting all of Philippines. This is not the true Philippines. The Philippines is a very diverse country in terms of tongues. We must embrace that and not make up something artificial that places us against each other. Our only objective is to help children realize their part in this globe. Our only mission is to teach our children, not to brainwash them with something we have only imagined and created.

Our teachers need support. Our schools need support. Let us focus on what matters to learning. Let us emphasize what works. And we need to make sure that in doing so, we still respect each other's language, because language is part of our soul....